the rhinoceros

an essay on creativity. by dan kitrosser.

Correct me if I’m wrong,

But doesn’t Lisa Kron’s Well end with her opening up a letter from her mother that begins with the phrase, or ends with the phrase, or middle’s with it:

“Integration is hard” ?

I remember sitting in the little carol at the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library watching Well on VHS–ah the magic of live theater–and being overwhelmed by the statement.  It seemed to be not only about Integration with  its capital I and the little black girl with her backpack surrounded by white men with guns as she walks up those steps, but for an artist as well, for Kron, who wrapped two, if not three or four, stories and kinds of stories into one story about Wellness.

Integration is hard.

It was her mother talking about bridging the gap between the Jews and the Blacks in their Michigan neighborhood, and it was about an artist trying to integrate so many different ideas, stories, feelings, beliefs into one coherent thought.

It’s that coherent thought, which unravels as you start to talk about it, that for an artist, and yes the priveledge of being a white male artist, I want to talk about.

For it’s an allegory, isn’t it.  The work that we all do.  Trying to bridge together two, three, ten, a hundred thoughts feelings, ideas, beliefs into one coherent work of art–or if we are assholes, one purposefully incoherent work of art–and trying to make the parts be more than the whole, but trying to make the whole something greater.

Integration is hard, and perhaps I’ve retreated.

If I’m being honest with myself, and you, dear reader, whomever you are, I have moved to Portland with the notion, the thought, the belief that I SHOULD BE WORKING ON MY OWN ART.  Enough with New York and its countless projects and endless workshops, with its conversations down avenues with coffee cups in hadn about WHAT WE ARE GOING TO DO.  Enough with LET’S MEET AND TALK AND SEE WHERE WE WANT TO GO WITH IT.  Enough with I REALLY WANT TO COLLABORATE WITH YOU.

Now, now, now!  Now is the time when I will decompress and write the thing that I want to write.  Now, me, alone, in Portland.  Nothing but hours and hours and no distractions.  Nothing but my own personal views, my own personal thoughts, my own personal beliefs and nothing but MY monologues and MY funny lines and MY inside jokes that reveal myself to the Outside.

Because it’s been a long time of working on other people’s things.  And there’s a part of me that feels so fortunate for it all, there’s a hunger in me that can only be satiated by the email in my inbox.  That is a huge thing, an animal inside of me, a rhinoceros, who is coarse and pointed and grumpy, who smells of shit and is swarmed with flies who needs everyday to be fed an email or a text message containing the active ingredients of PRAISE and the PROSPECT OF MONEY.  And this rhinoceros, this is a grumpy fellow, and yes, his rough skin makes one think that he doesn’t want you or need you or desire you, but that’s his trick, because he will devour you, this rhinoceros in me.  He will eat up your story and he will shit out something slightly better because he is very very very very good at shit.  But the problem with the rhinoceros in me is that he is always hungry, and if he doesn’t get it from you, he tramples all over my work.  Because he is very vain my rhinoceros, he is ugly and he is old and he is mean and he needs your PRAISE and the PROSPECT OF MONEY.

And I want to not have to listen to my rhinoceros.  I want to have meadows and meadows of that field where Rumi said that I could meet him.

But my fucking rhinoceros.  He tramples fields.  He is modern and he gentrifies the paradises of creativity with his need for MORE and MORE.  And I want to evict him. I want to run away from him.  I want the smog and the dust and the crowded streets this rhinoceros builds upon Rumi’s field–beyond rightness and wrongness there is a field and i will meet you there–I want him to stop his manifest destiny.  I want him to not build a highway that wraps round the city and blocks the view of the river and to not build that skyscraper right on top of that tree and I want that rhinoceros to stop saying yes to the contractors who have a new movie idea so they build a set right on top of my favorite thinking spot which had three daisies and beautiful thinking stone–fuck they actually dug up the three daisies and the beautiful thinking stone–and the rhinoceros stopped building himself, he outsourced his work so he could take a shit right  on the stream where I get my new ideas so that by the time they become old ideas they smell of armpits and stale cheese.  And after my rhinoceros created this cesspool, this e.e. cummings wasteland, do you know what fucking happened?

People started moving in.

And telling me they liked the place.

And then they started to live there.

And realized it smelled like shit.

And they asked me, did a rhinoceros build this?  Because its grey and cold and smells like shit.

And I…



I moved to Portland.  And built a field.  And there are no daisies yet, and there is no stream, or rock. There is no rhinoceros and there is no smell.

But there is also no highrise, with people who have come to my city, who needed to be there and didn’t care that a rhinoceros built it.  They just wanted to be there.  Where life is hard, because they are shmushed up against one another.

I am very lucky to have had a rhinoceros, I think.  And I think I am very lucky to have a field.

And I think integration for an artist is very hard.  And I don’t yet have meaning.

But I do know that I am an artist not in spite of or because of my rhinoceros, but the body of my work ,the landscape of my creativity is built out of houses of my swans and lions and my rhinoceri.

And it would cruel for me not to thank all of the animals.



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